Last year, I read Neil Gaiman’s new (at the time) novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was utterly gorgeous, breathtaking, heart-rending—I loved it. I recommended it to everyone I knew and in fact I think it’s still making rounds among a few of my friends. (I just know I haven’t gotten it back yet…)
It was my first Neil Gaiman, and I was hooked. I looked to my fellow contributors and commenters at Insatiable Booksluts for recommendations for their favorite Gaiman novels, and decided that my next step should be Neverwhere.
Neverwhere, like The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is pretty surreal, but it’s surreal in a very different way. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is like a fever dream—bright colors, swirls of mist—but Neverwhere is more like one of those bizarre nightmares you can’t seem to escape from. Just when I thought I got a handle on what was happening, something even stranger would go down.
Richard Mayhew is just a normal guy with a normal job and a normal girlfriend, until one evening he trips over a young woman on the sidewalk. He is shocked to discover she is bleeding, and brings her back to his apartment to patch her up. This seemingly simple, harmless action knocks over the first domino in an accelerating chain reaction of utter strangeness, and Richard is plunged into the world of London Below, a world much more extraordinary and dangerous than the life he knows.
London Below is a world of talking rats, angels, friars, bodyguards, beasts, assassins, and shadowy marketplaces held after dark and hidden in plain sight. In this realm of darkness underneath London Above (i.e. “real life”), and with the assistance of the shadowy Marquis de Carabas, the bodyguard Hunter, and other mysterious characters, Richard helps Door, the young girl he tripped over on the street, with her quest to discover who murdered her family. Neverwhere is a story of friendship, love, betrayal, and realizing that what you always thought you wanted might not be what you want after all.
Like I said earlier, Neverwhere is quite like a nightmare that you can’t seem to wake up from. Just when you think it can’t get weirder, it does. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it, though. I didn’t love it as much as I loved Ocean, but when I could get myself to concentrate on it, it was actually pretty immersive—hence the nightmare comment. I think the biggest issue with my enjoyment of it was that it took me about two and a half weeks to read it, which is uncommon for a book so short (less than 400 pages). I took a family trip to Florida for a week and a half while I was reading it, and for the ten days I was there, I probably only had time to crack the book once or twice. And when I did, I was so exhausted that I could hardly concentrate on the words on the page. So by the time I picked it up again to finish it, I had practically forgotten the first half of the story.
Obviously, this isn’t the book’s fault, although it certainly could have grabbed my attention a bit more. As I said above, it was pretty immersive when I could get myself to concentrate, but it was still occasionally a challenge to get myself to do that. I just didn’t feel as invested as I would have wanted.
Anyway, Neverwhere is still a good book. I didn’t love it, but I liked it, and I would recommend it to horror fans who want something perhaps a bit more highbrow than the mainstream.by